If you ask people to describe themselves as leaders, a word that often comes up is coach.
How you coach can define what the working relationship will look like with your team. Great coaches typically have people that stay longer, find more purpose in their work and produce higher results. Here are some tips to help you become a great coach worth following and landmines to avoid setbacks and traps.
Avoiding landmines in coaching
There are times when either we come at the conversation wrong, or it takes a turn that we weren’t expecting, and we find ourselves making the coaching personal in nature. When you center your coaching on yourself you have lost focus on the reason for being there – to help the other person grow.
Stay away from comparisons to others: It seems simple enough to say, “You aren’t doing as well as Sally,” but you’ve just made the conversation about Sally and the person you are coaching. This line of dialog can quickly derail a conversation and cause more long-term harm than good. Instead, focus on the behavior or problem and coach that accordingly. It doesn’t matter what others are doing or not doing. The conversation should stay on point with the topic at hand. When I am coaching a group of leaders about their team, I typically think of the people we are discussing as books on a shelf. We pull one down, open it up and discuss it, and then put it back on the shelf, this way there is a clean mental break between people. I also avoid visuals that show groups of people together until the very end.
Keep the distractions away: Everyone is busy. For the best coaching to happen, you and the other person need to be as distraction-free as possible. That means silencing phones, stepping away from the CPU, or moving away from a loud area, so you can both be fully focused on the conversation. The one that typically gets me is my smartwatch. It’s meant to help you not reach for your phone as much, but people will pick up when you glance down at your watch and misinterpret that you mean that you are not interested in what they have to say.
Avoid Interrupting: Deceptively simple, but harder to live out, avoid interrupting as the person is sharing information or their thoughts. You may want to jump in with an immediate rebuttal or “fix” to the comment but hold back and let the person finish sharing. This will help keep engagement levels higher during the conversation.
Running diagnostics as coaching: You’ve encountered the diagnostic approach often at work. “Have you tired A? What about B? Have you tried C or D?” This is a great approach when it comes to problem-solving but is less effective as coaching. Your goal should be to ask open-ended questions that invite the person to come up with their own ideas.
Tips for great coaching
Here are some tips to keep your coaching conversation on track and impactful with the other person.
Start from their perspective: Before you have the coaching conversation start your line of thought from their perspective. It may seem counterintuitive but listen more than you talk as you coach others. Without listening with the intention to learn and understand, you’re unlikely to understand the full perspective needed in order to help the person reach the best outcome.
Be prepared: The slogan of the Boys Scouts is a great one when it comes to coaching. Come prepared to coach conversations with data, information, and feedback from appropriate parties. Without structure and information, the coaching conversation can devolve into just a casual conversation that the person quickly forgets.
Be honest and caring with feedback: It’s imperative to give someone honest feedback when you are coaching. They deserve to hear the truth, where they currently stand, and what the next steps are to move forward. Share takeaways and feedback honestly but remember to do so with care. Honesty can sometimes hurt, but the blow can be softened with a caring and empathetic approach.
Use questions to your advantage: Lean into open-ended questions to help the person grow in their problem-solving skills and as an outlet to strengthen their own internal motivators.
Ask questions from a curious point of view to understand the other person’s standpoint.
Ask great questions, but don’t ask endless questions. Once you get into the right area for the next steps, begin to help the conversation to a positive conclusion.
Avoid asking questions to an answer that you already have with a little room for variations, (think compliance, safety, etc.) In those circumstances, it’s better to give the person the answer immediately instead of making them jump through a bunch of proverbial hoops to arrive at the same answer you had in the first place.
Be the coach to others that you’ve always wanted for yourself. Be timely, actionable, caring, and specific as you help your people reach their fullest potential.
A Harvard Business Review study showed that people are most likely to leave in their first year. Most companies of course don’t need HBR to tell them that; they feel the churn of the rotating door of talent in some of their most critical roles. Today we’ll discuss ways to keep your people engaged so that they stick around to the first year and far beyond.
The first step in building out a plan is to understand the reasons why the largest groups of people are leaving. I’ve spoken with and advised organizations that will inherently point to compensation as the reason why. While money and benefits may be a factor, it will never be the only factor at play in the reasons behind leaving. Invest the time on the front end to understand what some of the true reasons are.
Where to look
Learn from those that wrapped their first year recently. What kept them around? What were their struggles? What do they feel like they missed? This will be one of the most valuable places to gather this important info.
Learn from the leaders of the population that you are solving for. What do they see? What are some of the common skill gaps of new people?
Talk to peers, partners, and others to affirm or add context to what you learned from the first two groups.
Poll those that left. This is a great practice to have in place as long as it is in conjunction with some of the other fact-gathering activities. Often times ex-employees won’t give you the full reason or they may over-exaggerate a point based on a bad personal experience.
Leverage your findings to build out a plan
Regardless of industry, you’ll typically find a combination of compensation, support to be successful in the role, a sense of connectedness to others, and purpose in their work to be some of the major reasons that you may need to care for.
Now that you have the power of that knowledge to know where to go, you need to consider how to get there. Look at how your vulnerable population works. Are they office based with strict performance and time expectations? Perhaps they are mobile; always on the move. Maybe they are mostly working from home or in a hybrid work environment.
For your program to be successful it must meet the person where they are and resonate with who they are, what they need, and how and when they need it. Using the three examples above, if you created one program to try to care for them all, you would inevitably fail at all three. Leverage multiple layers into the program to help meet people’s different learning styles and communication preferences. I prefer to include virtual meetings, mentoring, one-on-one coaching, and self-paced learning (using audio, video, and practical exercises)
Assess data and storytell
Access your program at the 90-day, 6-month, and year mark to see what adjustments need to be made. I don’t think that there is a single program that I have launched over the years that didn’t change in some regard by the end of the first year. Let go of control and ego to listen and learn from your mentors, advisors, and people that are going through the program. Make those needed adjustments to further refine the experience of your people and increase the engagement of those mentors, and advisors that are making it happen.
The six-month and year marks are great times to pull retention data to see how your efforts are actually impacting the business. Partner with HR to get an understanding of what the full costs are when hiring for an open role (Comp, backfill expenses, recruiting expenses, loss of productivity, etc). Multiply that dollar amount by the number or percentage of people that were saved as a result of your program. This is a great way to show the bottom line impact of the hard work and clears an easier path to gain more resources to expand or enhance your program.
Your onboarding program doesn’t have to be an overly complicated plan in order to get great results. Focus on understanding the why behind the reasons for leaving, build a solution that meets the person where they are, and follow up on potential changes. Be sure to celebrate those well-deserved wins along the way!
As leaders, or leadership teams, start to think about how to handle performance on their team for the first time, they often focus on who they deem as underperformers first. As a result, you’ll see leaders begin targetting their underperformers openly or subvertly. Mark Zuckerberg warned his employees that they were “turning up the heat” on underperformers and added, “You might decide this place isn’t for you, and that’s OK with me.”
Not exactly inspiring for an employee or for the leader that has to carry out the direction from their CEO. Great talent wants to be involved with great leadership and if you handle underperforms the wrong way, you may get rid of your least effective people, but your best people may bail on you as well. It’s important to tackle underperformance professionally and consistently if everyone.
Be clear on expectations from the beginning and make them realistic
Your expectations and goals for every employee should be crystal clear. Ask yourself:
What do they have to do to be considered effective in their role?
What are the expectations on their behaviors and how they conduct their work and interact with others? (Look to your values here)
What resources do they need to be successful?
Are the goals realistic to meet?
This clarity helps immensely as you lead others. Setting a consistent cadence of conversation also helps. Performance conversations are less likely to bubble up or to be a surprise for anyone, which reduces drama and stress in the workplace. Think about how a conversation would go if there were no ambiguity in what the person needed to do and you were checking in with them on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.
If a person is struggling to meet expectations ask them for their input on the why. The goal may not be realistic to hit under the current situation or there may be outside factors that are influencing the work that you hadn’t considered before.
Always talk to the person before taking action
I’ve shared over the years about my interaction with leaders who just wanted to let go of people without having a conversation. I get it; they are frustrated with their limits and just want to move on. A mature leader knows that you’ve got to have those crucial conversations with others. They will actively listen (Show 303), and attempt to understand the root cause of the issue.
Trust is very important to help this conversation land in a positive place. When the person feels psychologically safe they will be more likely to open up and share why they are struggling.
There are a few types of underperformers and the approach to these people changes depending on what their root issue is.
Blockers: These are people that do just enough to get by, but how they do their work is not aligned with expectations. They are also typically resistant to any kind of change that impacts them. Help these see the impact of their decisions on themselves and others. Frame up the challenges in a way that matters to them. They likely highly value respect and honor towards themselves, helping them understand how their actions are counter to that value as they deal with others.
Inconsistent Contributor: These are people exactly as the name describes – inconsistent. Perhaps it’s in the work that they do or you are not sure what version you are going to get of that person on a daily basis. Dig in here to understand the root cause, tighten up your cadence of check-ins and get agreement from them that they understand expectations. Call out the inconsistently plainly. It is also helpful to provide extra support and resources to help get them back on track; this could be a mentor, learning opportunities, or additional headcount support.
Detractors: These people may not be a great fit for the organization or in the extreme case, they are all out sabotaging the team’s success. Make sure that you have partnered with your upline leaders and HR partners here as you walk this path. Have a solidly written performance improvement plan with dates on expectations.
Potential Gems: These people may have been great and could be great again, but today they may not be in the right role. In these circumstances, help the person find a role internally that better aligns with their gifts, talents, and aspirations. They want to do their best and likely love the organization, but perhaps they took on a role because someone asked them to, or they didn’t realize the full scope of what the role would entail.
Overall your underperformer will likely fall into the inconsistent contributor category with detracts and blockers being more rare and potential gems being the rarest.
Address your underperformers with empathy and care as you help them back on track with expectations. Remember that they are people too and still deserve to be treated with professionalism and respect. Addressing the underperformance the right way ensures that you and the other person have the best chance to turn things around.
I love scuba diving. Between the calmness of the water, the unique experiences, and how you tune in different parts of your body that you normally don’t pay attention to, it’s a wonderful activity to participate in.
Last summer, I attended a Scouting leadership conference at the University of Tennessee. During one of the sessions, we taught scuba basics to scouts in the Olympic pool there on campus. It was a great reminder of the leadership principles that we can model after scuba divers.
Prepare before you jump in
The first thing that you do before exploring underwater is a proper gear check. Does your mask work correctly? Does your tank have air and are the gauges and hoses working properly? Does your vest inflate and deflate as it should? Do your fins feel right? it could be a bad day for you if you just jump in without doing the safety checks first.
We face the same caution in our professional and personal lives, especially in areas where we are very comfortable. The ability to improvise is a great trait that serves you well in both your work and home life. The issue comes when you overuse that skill. You’re likely to come across as less professional, and your guests aren’t served as well or even consistently. More importantly, in some situations, you can be putting yourself and others in danger.
Don’t shortcut the prep time and attention to detail that needs to happen to be successful in your role.
Go slow to enjoy things
Time just seems to move slower underwater. There is so much to see and take in underwater! If you jump and simply swim around as much as possible, then at the end of the day there is really no difference between scuba diving at a coral reef or an Olympic swimming pool.
Life moves fast. In a few short months, we’ll dive into our time management series that gets at a core challenge: How do we manage time for ourselves and others when everyone is so busy? Run! Run! Run! is how many people operate their day (I’m guilty of this at times as well). One of the most important lessons that my mentor taught me early in my career was to slow down and spend time with my people. The work will always be there, if you finish a task another one will be right behind it. Your people however will not always be there. It’s one of the few guarantees of work. Slow down to enjoy and invest in your team. Admire the hard work and progress that the team has made. Taking time to slow down, also gives you a better appreciation of your job and the role that you play.
Keep close to your team
When diving, you should always have a partner, and your group should always have a team leader that keeps a headcount of where everyone is. Nearly all accidents happen in part because a person was on their own.
There is certainly a balance that needs to happen between micromanaging (Show 314, 315) and undermanaging (Show 325) In the middle of that spectrum is a leader that gives their people the space that they need, but also the support that they want in order to be successful.
Have a regular cadence of check-ins that makes sense for you and the other person.
Listen and learn about things going on outside of work.
Observe how they interact and accomplish their work.
Coach in the moment instead of letting things escalate.
Keeping close to your team is important for the health of the team and the individual.
Panic = more problems
Sometimes things can get weird while diving. Perhaps the air regulator malfunctions, you get turned around or disoriented, or you have an unexpected encounter with wildlife. The worst thing that you can do as a diver in those moments is to panic because it only agitates the situation further. Divers are trained to remain calm, signal for help, and surface in a timely fashion if it is safe to do so.
It is guaranteed that things are not going to go your way every day. In those moments of chaos, others will look to you to set the tempo and demeanor. Panic and surely they will as well. Remember to remain calm, and let the initial emotion wash through you as your brain needs a moment to catch up and then react. Your initial reaction is often not the best one.
Be like the scuba diver. Prepare for your week, take some time to slow down and enjoy the work, spend time with the team, and don’t panic if things go off the rails.
I love the sport of rowing. It’s exciting to watch the boats as groups of 4-8 rowers work in unison to get the small vessel, sometimes only as wide as your waist, to the finish line. It’s not uncommon for these races to come down to the wire with a second or less separating the leader from other contenders.
From the training to the race, there are quite a few things that you can model in your leadership based on rowers.
As Mike and I have taken the journey to get stronger and better shape, one activity that we both have picked up is rowing (on machines in our homes). It’s a fantastic full-body exercise that can be as challenging as you want it to be.
Rowing is also a great sport to watch and participate in, with races usually coming down to a second or less
Focus on the present when things get real
All the training is well and good until things get real and the situation doesn’t go as planned. When you think of Olympic-level champions, you may not think of Canada, but they won Olympic Gold at the Beijing Summer Olympics in 2008.
One of the rowers, Adam Kreek, does a great job of telling an engaging story of their win that day. They raced enough to know that it would take the team 220 strokes to get to the finish line. He tells about the millions of strokes that were put in during the training just for it all to be reduced down to 7 strokes. Don’t worry about the other 213 strokes. Their coach had them put in 7 solid strokes, all out, and then refocus for 7 more.
There are a lot of distractions going on during the short amount of time that the race happens. (the crowd, the other boats, your teammates, your pain, etc) Adam shares how a distraction got the best of him for just a split second causing him to lose control of his oar. Both he and his called out to focus on the present. He was able to recover and the team moved on to victory.
Adam’s loss of focus could have easily cost his team the gold. In the military, we are taught that a loss of focus at the wrong time can cost you and others their lives. When a situation gets critical in importance and timing, stress consistency in order to be successful, help your teams stay laser-focused on what is directly ahead of them. One of the teams that I work with were struggling with a project that could have long-term implications for thousands of people, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The issue was that the debate about the long-term was costing us work on a short-term solution that needed to be settled that week. My mantra became, “Let’s focus on what we have to fix today so that we can have a chance to influence the future.” Once they changed their focus to the present, we were able to knock out a solution in under 24 hrs.
Embrace a group ego and shared leadership
I firmly believe in the power ofservant leadership and the thought of others over self. At the same time, I also believe that there is power in group ego. One of my proudest accomplishments during the operations-focused part of my career was restoring a region that was previously the most respected and highest-performing area but had lost its way. I leaned hard into shared success and touted the pride and honor of being a part of our team. Leaders bought back in and began owning their part of our success. In just two short years, we did it, restoring sales success and lowering turnover tremendously through the process.
The best rowers embrace the same mentality. Adam owned his error in the race. He called himself out and kept moving forward. That year at the Olympics, the Canadian team was catching all kinds of attention for what was regarded as unsportsmanlike conduct. The guys weren’t provoking anyone, but they were so sure of what they had built that they simply ignored the competition, because they felt the only true competition was themselves – to either win it or lose it.
Do your people take authentic pride and joy in being a part of your team? Is it propped up in a superficial way or will it wether any proverbial storm? Here are some tactics to begin to instill that in the teams that you are a part of.
Share the vision of where you want to go. Help them see the Why and the future state that you are trying to move towards.
Brag on each other’s progress.
Share examples of how the team is influencing the larger strategy.
Share feedback that you are getting about the team
Share customer stories about the group.
Celebrate and spread the news as others reach their career goals as a result of being on the team.
Create a team of leaders
The Canadian coach would tell Adam and the team that rowing was 90% athletic skill and 10% leadership. He lived that out as the team collapsed during the Olympics prior to their gold medal run.
The team had the first half of shared leadership down – a strong vision of the goal and how to get there. They lacked the power of the second half – they heavily relied on their coach for inspiration, direction, and accountability. Once they leaned into the power of leadership in each other, they unlocked a whole new level of potential. They no longer needed the coach to call out opportunities. Each was brave enough to do it themselves. The team’s point person ebbed and flowed depending on the situation and individual strength of the other rowers on the team.
Serve your team by building a group of leaders that is not dependent on your singular focus and vision. Your team will be better served, more adaptable, and have higher success as a result.
Sometimes success comes down to the inches and the details of the work that you and others do for your shared success. Adam’s team won the gold medal by a little over one second, which equates to 220 inches. How many strokes did it take the team from beginning to end? 220! They beat the next-best team by one inch per stroke.
Build pride in your team, help everyone own their responsibility, lower the focus down as things get challenging, and create shared leadership along the way.
Dolphins are loved across the world for their intelligence, playfulness, and curiosity. You’ll likely be hard-pressed to find a person who has a grudge against dolphins unless you are John Oliver. There are several things that we can learn from dolphins to apply to our own leadership and life walks.
They put others above themselves
Dolphins are very social in nature. As opposed to sharks, who live a solitary life, dolphins live in and operate in groups, called pods, ranging in size from 5 – 30. They live, eat, and sleep together and will always come to protect others in their pod where there is danger. They understand the importance of the group and will put themselves in danger in order to help others.
Do you find yourself living and working a solitary life like the shark, or do you do your best to contribute and raise the value of the whole team? Spend some time today thinking about your contributions to the teams that you are a part of. Celebrate those partnerships and the impact that you are having! We’ve done a number of shows on teamwork including:
Another great quality about dolphins is their willingness and ability to teach others in their pod. Older dolphins will focus on hunting skills and other activities and attributes for younger dolphins to thrive as they grow.
It’s said that knowledge is power and that is certainly true. Some co-workers will leverage knowledge as collateral in their role, hoarding info for a sense of power and safety. The behavior is rooted in a sense of safety; if I am the only one that knows how to do a task, then I should be invaluable.
Good leaders and partners know the power of letting go of knowledge instead of hoarding it for themselves. You often can make yourself more promotable by showing that you have developed your replacement as you interview for the next role. Openly sharing your skills and knowledge also provides you an opportunity to delegate tasks and responsibilities that free you up to do new and different things yourself.
They shift leadership responsibilities
Dolphins are very social and even though they live in pods, there is no clear-cut leader based on seniority or dominance. Leadership is fluid and natural. The leader will change depending on the situation around them and the strengths and abilities of the individuals in the group. They are egoless in nature, willing to step up and lead when needed but also just as willing to give up the spotlight and let another member of the pod shine.
I love this approach to leadership and often try to model it in my own life. Give those around you a chance to shine and lead when the situation is right. I will look for opportunities for the junior members of my teams and those I work with a chance to take on a part of the project or at speaking opportunities in front of a senior leadership group in order for them to get experience and recognition. The other bonus is that they often are the subject matter expert or they bring a whole host of knowledge and experience to the table that I do not have, which only makes the solution to the problem all the more stronger.
They are playful & curious
You’ve probably seen videos, or even experienced for yourself, the playfulness and curiosity of dolphins. They are known to check out passing ships in the wild, they enjoy playing in waves, and all around enjoy their lives.
Life is full of change and it seems like we are always in multiple serious world events happening at the same time. Add that on top of all the challenges that happen to you as an individual and it can get overwhelming. Remember to enjoy the small moments that happen throughout the day. I’ve been in a season of constant meetings, so for me having a chance to spend a few moments with my sweet little dog between meetings is great. Also, be mindful to set a block of time every day to do something for yourself that you enjoy. That may be some exercise, a hobby, or watching a show among other things. It doesn’t have to be a large amount of time, anything to help break up your day and to give your mind a chance to engage in a different way is helpful.
Be the dolphin by leaning into the power of teamwork, freely give your knowledge away, let go of ego while leading, and remember to take some time to have some fun along the way.